Women’s Basketball: Northwestern seeks second Nebraska upset in Big Ten Tournament

Steven Montero

Coach Joe McKeown wouldn’t call it a stroke of luck.

11th-seeded Northwestern (14-15, 4-12 Big Ten) drew 6th-seeded Nebraska (21-7, 10-6) in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament and will face the Cornhuskers on Thursday. Defeating then-No.16 Nebraska on the road in February was Northwestern’s biggest conference win. With the end of the regular season culminating in Indianapolis, the Cats have another chance to face the only nationally ranked conference foe they beat this season.

“We knew we all wanted to go hard and play well together and just do what we could to win,” junior forward Kendall Hackney said about the Cats’ victory in Lincoln, Neb. “We needed a win really badly. And we need a win really badly now. We can totally go in there with the same focus, the same attitude going in. We’ve got nothing to lose.”

McKeown said everything besides Thursday is “irrelevant” and the Cats’ focus is entirely on Nebraska.

The No. 24 Cornhuskers enter the tournament off a momentous victory over then-No. 8 Ohio State. Nebraska leads the Big Ten in made 3-pointers, with 200 shots from behind the arc falling into the basket. The Cornhuskers drain an average of 7.1 threes per game.

The Cats average only 5.4 threes per game and have lost three consecutive games, their last win coming at Lincoln on Feb. 16.

Sophomore guard Meghan McKeown said there’s a lot at stake in Indianapolis, but NU feels confident diving into competition.

“We’ve been really working on our defense right now,” she said. “Nebraska has some really sharp 3-point shooters, so our goal is just to be sure we have a hand in every shot and contest.”

Hackney said Nebraska has solid post players who will match up well with her and fellow junior forward Dannielle Diamant.

Hackney accumulated 17 points and 5 rebounds during the Cats’ last meeting with the Cornhuskers, and Diamant put up 19 points and 8 rebounds after recovering from an injury suffered during NU’s game against Michigan State on Feb. 9.

“We played really good basketball that game and we’re hoping to bring that back,” Hackney said. “Our blizzard defense did a really good job against their offense. We were just focused and rotated really well. We were just in sync. Hopefully we can make sure that happens on Thursday again. They’ve got great shooters and we have to be aware of where they are the whole time.”

Hackney added the Cats have to take the tournament day by day.

Joe McKeown said NU focused on the execution of its offense this week, as well as getting everyone to come together, communicate and do “the little things”.

He said he was impressed with the Cats’ poise in their victory over the Cornhuskers and that NU’s defense, which allowed opponents runs and forced the Cats into insurmountable deficits throughout conference play, was superb.

“That might have been one of our best defensive efforts of the year,” he said. “It’s something obviously in conference championships that you’ve got to bring. You’re not trying to get better, you’re not trying to see who can; you’re trying to win one game. Our biggest challenge is not so much Nebraska as it is us. That part of it is going to carry over, but I like our fight and our attitude right now.”

NU’s season had many setbacks. Although the Cats started out the non-conference season strong at 11-3, senior forward Brittany Orban went out for good in late November due to a torn ACL. Diamant was injured twice throughout the season, forcing her to sit on the bench for extended periods of time. Freshmen guards Karly Roser and Morgan Jones stepped up and filled the void, but sloppy play plagued NU, which averaged 17.8 turnovers per game.

Joe McKeown said the Big Ten Tournament offers a clean slate for the Cats.

“Regardless of what’s happened now in the regular season, everybody’s 0-0,” he said. “Everybody starts over. If you’re a basketball fan, if you’re a basketball follower, this is the best time of the year. If you’re a basketball player, this is what you work for. This is why you are out running sprints at 6 a.m. and lifting weights in July or closing the gym because you just want to get that extra shot. This is why.”

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